I finally got Cuphead in my hot little hands and I couldn’t be more happy with it. It’s a beautiful game that (for once) met and exceeded my expectations. It’s been a refreshing challenge.
And that’s exactly what it is: a challenge.
A lot of folks have been highlighting the difficulty of Cuphead, seemingly complaining that it’s too hard. Obviously, difficulty is relative to the player but all in all, I can tell you that Cuphead is not too difficult or hard. But it is a challenge.
Cuphead manages to hit a nirvana-like balance between skill, fun, challenge and reward. Yes, you die a lot in Cuphead, but you also get better every time you try again. At no point do you feel like Cuphead is unfair or that you’re failing because of something the computer did. You play, you get better, you get reward. It’s exactly what you want (and need) it to be.
In short, Cuphead is a near-perfect game. It looks great, it plays great, it’s very entertaining, it’s wonderfully challenging and comes with a lot of personal satisfaction when you defeat a boss and complete a goal. I’m not even sure what the last game was that I played where it found such a great balance.
So why are people complaining about the difficulty?
Games have grown easier and easier over the past couple decades. As gaming became more mainstream, so did the games. Way back when, games had to try to get people to play, which meant you had to focus on keeping that audience happy or they’d leave…now people will play no matter what. You keep people happy by catering to their laziness and that’s what so many games have done. And the growth of casual/mobile gaming since 2006 has exacerbated that even more.
Video games have become far more passive overall and while that’s fine, that is what also makes games like Cuphead seem overly difficult when they’re not. They’re difficult because games like Cuphead are so rare now that the population at large hasn’t played much like it. And then you have a great looking game like Cuphead come along and people think it’s going to be as “easy” as whatever they’re playing on their phone and it’s not.
The problem isn’t Cuphead nor the people playing, it’s that the landscape of gaming doesn’t have enough of these games anymore. Thirty years ago Cuphead-like games were all you had. It was the norm. That norm shifted to include more variety – which is wonderful – but that variety is now tilting the other way instead. We went from a place where every game is a challenge to where every game isn’t. We need more balance.
I’m hoping Cuphead can prove there is a market for tough, arcade style games that require lots of play time doing the same thing over and over, and thus feeling like you’re actually getting good at something rather than just getting by. I’ve also very thankful that Cuphead shows you that these type of games are not relegated spaceships, dungeons and flying anime witches. I think maybe the theme of Cuphead really contributed to the layer of backlash. People saw a cartoon and saw it as a safe, accessible and casual, and what they got was a little different.
Nonetheless, I am here to tell you that Cuphead is not too difficult and that you should buy it. It’s a wonderful experience that will delight, challenge and reward you. In fact, the best compliment I heard about Cuphead came from my 5-year-old daughter.
I told her I got a new video game that I wanted show her. With her on the couch next to me, I booted it up and she watched it start. She said, “Daddy, this isn’t even a video game, it’s a cartoon.” I then showed how the characters move around and the actual gameplay…she was amazed. Being in control of a cartoon appeared to be the best thing since popsicles.
Cuphead is $20 on Steam and on Xbox One. I have the PC version from Steam and it plays great, even on my less-than-modern desktop computer.